September 30, 2021

Warren, Davids, Cole Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Seek Healing for Stolen Native Children and Their Communities

Bill Text | One Pager | Endorsement List

Washington, D.C. -- Today, on the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), reintroduced The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. Originally introduced last year with then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), this bill would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's Indian Boarding School Policies. This includes attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; assimilation practices; and human rights violations. The commission would also develop recommendations for Congress to aid in healing of the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities and provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.

"The Indian Boarding School Policies are a stain in America's history, and it's long overdue that the federal government reckon with this history and its legacy. These policies and practices caused unimaginable suffering and trauma for survivors, victims, and the thousands of Native families who remain impacted by them. This is why Congresswoman Davids, Congressman Cole, and I are introducing legislation that would establish a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies. This Commission would formally investigate the past wrongs of the federal government's attempts to terminate the cultures, religions, and languages of Native communities and respond to the ongoing historical and intergenerational trauma devastating tribal communities today,” Senator Warren said

“The U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies stripped children from their families and their cultures—actions that continue to impact Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities today. Our country must do better to acknowledge its legacy and understand the full truth of these policies,” said Representative Davids. “This commission is a critical step to allow Native families and communities to begin to heal from the intergenerational trauma. I am proud to introduce this bill in the House alongside Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Tom Cole and our colleagues.”

“Establishing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy will provide an important step toward resolving and healing from one of our nation’s darkest periods,” said Congressman Cole, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “While we cannot erase this difficult chapter in our history, studying and understanding the societal, cultural and personal impact of forcibly removing Native American and Alaskan Native children from their homes, families, communities and heritage for nearly a century is certainly worth investigating. I am proud to support the creation of this investigative commission to provide answers for these communities.”

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) endorses The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act:

“We are in a moment in history where the wound of unresolved grief from Indian boarding schools is being ripped wide open. The truth is being unearthed and yet so much more is still unknown. It is time for a federal Truth Commission to provide answers to the thousands of relatives of those children who were taken, went missing, or died at these schools. The Truth and Healing Commission on U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies will be the beginning of profound healing for the Indigenous Peoples of this country.” - Christine Diindiisi McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) & Citizen of Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation

The Indian Boarding School Policies were implemented by the federal government to strip American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children of their Indigenous identities, beliefs, and languages by forcibly removing children from their tribal lands and families. According to NABS, it is estimated that by 1926, nearly 83 percent of AI/AN children, as young as 3 years old, were enrolled in one of at least 367 currently known Indian boarding schools across 30 states, resulting in human rights violations, including spiritual, physical, industrial, psychological, and sexual abuse, neglect, and trauma. The full effects of the Indian Boarding School Policies have never been appropriately addressed, resulting in long-standing historical and intergenerational trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, premature deaths, and additional undocumented psychological trauma. 

Furthermore, the residual impact of the Indian Boarding School Policies remains evident in a lack of culturally inclusive and affirming curricula and historically inaccurate representation of Native people, history, and contributions. For generations, the federal government has failed to reckon with this history, or its legacy and the ongoing historical and intergenerational trauma. The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act is an attempt to address this disgraceful chapter in history and begin healing for Native communities.

This bill will build on steps that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has taken to address this need. On June 22, 2021, Secretary Haaland announced that the Interior would conduct an initial investigation of the Indian boarding school policies and their consequences, marking the start of the federal government’s reckoning with this painful legacy. This morning, the Department of the Interior announced that the Department will begin tribal consultations on this Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. 

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act is supported by a broad coalition of tribal nations, tribal organizations, educators, and human rights groups. 

“The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the U.S. Act would provide an important avenue for an investigation about the losses that occurred through the Indian Boarding School Policies and the lasting consequences of the violence of this attempted genocide. Only through a formal investigation which includes meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations and significant input from survivors and their descendants, can the US begin to reconcile with the past and can tribal communities begin to move toward healing from the egregious abuses which occurred,” Juana Majel Dixon, NCAI Board Secretary and Traditional Councilwoman of the Pauma Band of Mission Indians, stated in a written statement. “National Congress of American Indians commends the bipartisan efforts of Senator Warren and Representatives Davids and Cole to address the systematic destruction of tribal cultures and communities, something which is long overdue.”

“The National Indian Child Welfare Association greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Warren and Representatives Davids and Cole to introduce the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. As we witness the international shock and outrage at the identification of mass burial sites and unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Canada who were residents of residential schools, we see the parallels to the boarding school era in the United States and the accounts from survivors of the horrific abuse they experienced. The legacy of those policies and practices is evident in Native communities today. This legislation is critical to exposing the truth about the individual and collective trauma that was imposed upon Native communities and furthering the process of healing for all Native people.” - National Indian Child Welfare Association

"Native communities have suffered loss of traditional thought and philosophy, culture, language, identity, land, and resources since 1491. The purpose of the act is respected, however over 500 years of broken promises and failures to uphold the trust responsibility will require more than just written policies. For this act to make effective and lasting change, Native communities and the US government MUST communicate, collaborate, and trust to determine the most appropriate ways for healing to begin for Native people. ​We are encouraged by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland's announcement on June 22, 2021 of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, and this codification in law of such an initiative will ensure that this investigation and documentation continues under future administrations." - National Indian Education Association (NIEA)

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs thanks Senator Warren, Representative Davids, and Representative Cole for introducing this bill to begin addressing the more than two-hundred-year history of American assimilation policies and practices that the federal government adopted in its treatment of generations of Native Americans, including Native Hawaiians. We are particularly appreciative of the bill’s inclusion of Native Hawaiians in the Commission’s scope and on the Advisory Committee with at least two representatives of our community. We look forward to working with Senator Warren to not only bring to light the history of what happened in the Indian Boarding Schools and the boarding and day schools in Hawai‘i, but also take steps to address the lasting effects and inequities that these policies continue to have on Native children and communities across the country,” stated Carmen Hulu Lindsey, Chair, Board of Trustees, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

"The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which comprises the nation's 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities, commends Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS), and Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) for their leadership in proposing a long overdue commission to study, document, and identify strategies for addressing the continuing traumatic impacts of the federal government's Indian boarding school policy. As TCUs, we believe strongly in the power of place-based and Tribal Nation-focused education rising from within us - from our own culture and language and connected to the air, land, water around us. That is the foundation of our future. But we cannot move forward unless we acknowledge and address all aspects of our past, including centuries of oppression, segregation, and even annihilation - the legacy of the boarding school experience. This landmark legislation will provide much-needed support for our transformative journey of healing, knowledge creation, and identity." - Carrie L. Billy, AIHEC President and CEO, American Indian Higher Education Consortium 

"USET SPF continues to insist that the United States atone for centuries of sins against Tribal Nations and Native people. Our hearts remain heavy with the weight of lasting intergenerational trauma caused by the horrors our ancestors faced at U.S.-run boarding schools. Hundreds of thousands of Native children were forcibly removed from their people and lost their culture, language, innocence-even their lives-at the hands of the federal government. The time is long overdue for the federal government and the American people to engage in honest reconciliation with the atrocities of the past, so that we can all move forward as citizens of a more just and honorable nation. Rep. Congresswoman Davids’ and Senator Warren's bill would not only provide an opportunity for this reckoning, it would also provide for the examination of modern-day assimilationist policies resulting in the continued theft of Native children from their Tribal communities. We offer our full support to this legislation." - Chief Kirk Francis, President, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund

“Federally funded boarding schools ripped AI/AN children from their families and their Tribal communities and contributed to the urbanization of AI/AN populations. Today, over 70% of AI/AN people reside in urban areas, but only 1% of all Indian Health Service funding is for urban Indian health. We are pleased to see Senator Warren, Congresswoman Davids, and Congressman Cole introduce this legislation to create a commission to begin to heal the decades of historical trauma inflicted on our people and hope this will usher in a new era where the trust responsibility is better upheld to all Indigenous people.” - Francys Crevier (Algonquin), CEO, National Council for Urban Indian Health

“I thank Representative Davids and Cole and Senator Warren for amplifying the voices of boarding school survivors who speak truth to the grave injustices and intergenerational harm caused by the United States," said Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Executive Vice President of the Seattle Indian Health Board and Director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. “These are the people that need to lead this effort. The ‘Truth and Healing Commission’ is a step forward, and we need to see more like it in order for our communities to heal.” 

“The time for this bill has long been coming since the founding of this country. It is time for the light to shine in the dark spaces of this country’s origins, its present reckoning, and the future of its soul as a country based on truth, justice, and healing. Will we live up to this aspiration?  Are we capable of doing so?  This bill gives us the opportunity to begin to do so. As Alaska Natives our story is inextricably linked to all of our Indigenous relatives across this country. Every person freely brought to this country has benefited because of what has been done and is being done to our peoples, and worse our precious children bore the brunt of these atrocities. We need justice, we need love, and we need all those who now call this country home to stand beside us. Let us find all our children, bring them home, and help this country live up to its ideals and its promises to our Native Peoples.” - La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow (Haida/Tlingit), President/CEO, First Alaskans Institute

“Today at Red Cloud, we openly acknowledge our institution was, at one point, explicitly involved in the destruction of the Lakota culture, language, and spirituality it now seeks to celebrate and revitalize. It is beyond time this nation acknowledges and reckons with the historical injustices experienced by Indigenous peoples due to the federal Indian Boarding School policy. Healing is made possible when harm is admitted with unflinching honesty and work is done to right historical wrongs. The Truth and Healing Commission marks the beginning of a much-needed process in our nation. It is a process that we at Red Cloud Indian School have already begun locally. Our sincere hope is that this commission will spread awareness of this history, bring people to deeper understanding, and heal our community and Indigenous people across the country.” - Statement from Red Cloud Indian School on the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act

"Having run several boarding schools for American Indian and Alaska Native students ourselves, the Jesuits would welcome the opportunity to work with a federal Commission to shine the light of truth on this part of our own, and our country’s, history. We participated fully with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has proven an important step on the road towards right relationship with Indigenous peoples. A similar Commission is likewise essential in this country. We are greatly encouraged by the introduction of this bill and ask all members of Congress to support it.” - Fr. Ted Penton, SJ, Secretary of Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

“We cannot wait any longer. Our families have been suffering for too long. The Association on American Indian Affairs supports the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act so that we – as a nation – can finally begin the process of uncovering, accepting and healing from the forced assimilation and genocidal policies that our country once believed in. We must speak truth to these great harms of the past so that it never happens again to anyone’s children.” - Shannon O’Loughlin, CEO AAIA

“The American Indian Catholic Schools Network believes this commission is an essential step for a meaningful movement of truth and healing. AICSN is honored to partner with NABS and other key players in this work as we commit each day to this work.” - American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN)

"The historical trauma resonating from this painful time in our collective history is not fully known by those outside of the American Indian community. The Inter Tribal Association of Arizona (ITAA) supports Senator Warren and Representative Davids in their efforts to bring healing to every American Indian family that still has the painful effects the Federal government's Indian boarding school policies. The "Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act," will create the pathway forward for national dialogue to take place and hopefully for the eventual healing of individuals and families that experienced trauma as result of the federal boarding school system. It is time to review the administrative history of this federal policy, its detrimental effects on the American Indian community, and the institutions that implemented this federal policy.” - Maria Dadgar, (Piscataway), MBA, Executive Director, Inter Tribal Association of Arizona (ITAA)

"The Fort Belknap Indian Community council strongly supports the proposed Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act. Boarding Schools were the government sponsored genocide of Indian people,” Andy Werk Jr., President, Fort Belknap Indian Community, wrote in a letter of support. “We applaud the efforts of Senator Warren and U.S. Representative Sharice Davids in reviving this effort to document the boarding school policies and provide another avenue to help heal any past transgressions.”  

"The atrocities of the Indian Boarding School Policies can no longer be ignored, and the Federal Government must be accountable for the historical and intergenerational trauma inflicted on us by these policies." - Chairwoman Teri Gobin, Tulalip Tribes

“Our community is well aware of the damages our people suffered at the hands of the Indian Board School Policy adopted by the United States. The stories have been handed down and those impacts felt by many generations. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have embraced multiple efforts to heal ourselves and to improve our health and wellness overall. We support the creation of this committee to propel these efforts forward for the good of all people who have been impacted. We also do this to honor our ancestors who sacrificed so we could be here today.” - Shelly R. Fyant, Chairwoman, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Council

View the complete list of supporters and their statements of support here

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Ann Kirpatrick (D-Ariz.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

In addition to reintroducing The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Davids recently urged the Indian Health Service (IHS) to implement protections for those experiencing trauma related to the Indian Boarding School Policies.